THERAPY by Steven Schwartz (Harcourt Brace: $22.95; 338 pp.) Every so often there is a novel that can be summed up in a single word--not the plot, but the overwhelming emotion one may feel while reading it. The word for "Therapy," by the much underrated Steven Schwartz, is pleasure. This is the type of book that makes you hope your bus ride is extra long so you can sit there and read it, laughing and sad at the same time, your life temporarily given over to these wonderful characters.

Cap is a therapist in Pierre, Colo. He has incredibly Jewish parents and an incredibly WASPy wife. Among his clients are Julian, who is 20, epileptic and desperately in love with another of Cap's clients, the hungry, hostile Maureen. Maureen fights her own therapy and tries to hurt Cap: "It took her a year to get him. Her sensor had worked overtime. Finally, she found it. . . 'You're a plodder, aren't you?' Held frozen, stunned. He could see in her eyes, the soft, almost tender and solicitous way that she'd said it, that she knew she'd found the key . . .It was what his father had once told him: 'You're a plodder.' One step above being a schlump."

The only flaw in "Therapy," and it's a small one at that, is in Julian. Large portions of the book are told from his point of view, and it seems sometimes as if Schwartz doesn't fully inhabit the character. There is a subtle case-study feel, a neat labeling of Julian's darkness that creates a small seam in otherwise seamless writing. A problem like this only stands out because the rest of the book is so strong, funny, painful and wise.

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